NHL Hockey

Running out of time, Capitals seek spark vs. Devils

A lengthy skid put the Washington Capitals in the unfamiliar position of selling at the NHL trade deadline.

But beginning Thursday night, the Capitals have one more chance to make a run at extending their streak of consecutive postseason berths.

The Capitals will look to begin crawling back into the playoff picture when they host the New Jersey Devils in the first of four straight games against teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference wild card race.

The Capitals have been off since Monday, when they fell to the host Los Angeles Kings, 4-2. The Devils last played Tuesday, when they lost to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-3.

The loss was the eighth in the last 11 games (3-8-0) for the Capitals, who have gone 10-15-1 since Jan. 1 to fall into a tie for 10th place in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday with the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators.

While the Senators and Sabres made moves to bolster their rosters at the trade deadline, the Capitals -- who have made the playoffs in each of the last eight seasons, tied with the Nashville Predators for the second-longest active streak in the NHL behind the Penguins -- made six deals in which they traded six veterans and acquired six draft picks.

Yet with games against the Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers and Sabres awaiting the Capitals through March 15, there's still a path back into contention for Washington.

"If you start looking at the big picture and trying to do the math and everything like that, obviously, it can get a little daunting," Capitals goalie Darcy Kuemper said Monday night. "Win the next one and go from there."

The Devils are also heading into a pivotal stretch of play, albeit with the math clearly on their side. New Jersey is four points behind the first-place Carolina Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division and on its way to making the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2018 and just the second time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.

The loss to the Maple Leafs marked the start of a month-ending 12-game stretch for the Devils in which they play nine games against teams in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. In addition to facing the Hurricanes for the final time in the regular season on Sunday, New Jersey is slated to play the Tampa Bay Lightning three times in a four-game span from March 14-19.

The Devils were on the verge of starting that stretch with a win but squandered a 3-2 lead in a span of 1:57 late in the third period Tuesday, when the Maple Leafs scored consecutive shots. Auston Matthews collected the game-winner on the power play with 2:53 left, 61 seconds after Timo Meier was whistled for high-sticking.

"The third period -- it was right there, except we made a couple big mistakes we haven't made," Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. "With five minutes left, the other team should have to earn the opportunity. They didn't earn it. We gave it to them."

--Field Level Media

Updated March 8, 2023

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